100,000 starve while S. Sudan buys weapons, say experts

Government troops wait to board trucks and pickups near Bar, South Sudan, in this file photo. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2017

100,000 starve while S. Sudan buys weapons, say experts

THE UNITED NATIONS: South Sudan’s government is spending at least half its budget on security and weapons while 100,000 people are dying of starvation as a result of famine caused mainly by an upsurge in government military operations, UN experts said in a new report.
The experts monitoring UN sanctions against the world’s newest nation said an additional 1 million people are near starvation and the number of people desperately needing food is expected to rise to 5.5 million “at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and breadth of the food crisis.”
The report to the Security Council, said that despite the scale and scope of South Sudan’s political, humanitarian, and economic crises, the panel of experts continues to uncover evidence of the ongoing purchase of weapons by President Salva Kiir’s SPLA forces.
The experts called on council members to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, add additional people blocking peace efforts and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the UN sanctions blacklist, and endorse a recommendation by the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (OHCHR) to establish an international investigation into the most serious crimes committed during the war.
South Sudan’s UN Mission said it could not comment because it has not seen the report.
The country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer. A peace deal signed in August 2015 and backed by the US collapsed last July.
Fighting has spread to new parts of the country since then, and the UN has warned of ethnic cleansing. According to the report, at the end of February over 1.9 million South Sudanese were internally displaced and over 1.6 million had fled the country.
“South Sudan is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the third largest globally, after Syria and Afghanistan,” the panel said. “More than 60 percent of the refugees are children — many severely malnourished. Recent new arrivals are reporting intense fighting, kidnappings, rape, fears of armed groups and threats to life, as well as acute shortages.”
The experts said that by far the largest-scale military campaigns have been executed by the SPLA under Kiir’s leadership in Upper Nile, Unity, Western Bahr El-Ghazal, Jonglei and Greater Equatoria states.
The campaigns use a combination of tribal militia and Dinka SPLA forces supported by heavy weapons including Mi24 attack helicopters, L-39 jets, and amphibious vehicles acquired by the government since the war began, they said.
“These military operations have constituted an escalation of the war in multiple areas of the country during the dry season, the consequences of which are starkly illustrated by the accelerating displacement of the population,” the report said. “At least one in every four South Sudanese has now been forced from his or her home since December 2013.”
The experts said “the de facto collapse” of the national unity transitional government envisioned in the 2015 peace deal has left a political arrangement between Kiir and First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, a Nuer, “that does not meaningfully include significant segments of the opposition, other political factions, and many influential non-Dinka community leaders.”


Another opioid crisis is raging through the developing world

Updated 10 min 33 sec ago

Another opioid crisis is raging through the developing world

KAPURTHALA: Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists.
These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.
Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East, creating international havoc some experts blame on a loophole in narcotics regulation and a miscalculation of the drug’s danger. The man-made opioid was touted as able to relieve pain with little risk of abuse. Unlike other opioids, tramadol flowed freely around the world, unburdened by international controls that track most dangerous drugs.
But abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene.

Grunenthal, the German company that originally made the drug, is campaigning for the status quo, arguing international regulations make narcotics difficult to get in countries with disorganized health systems, and adding tramadol to the list would deprive patients in pain access to any opioid at all.
“This is a huge public health dilemma,” said Dr. Gilles Forte, the secretary of the World Health Organization’s committee that recommends how drugs should be regulated. Tramadol is available in war zones and impoverished nations because it is unregulated. But it is widely abused for the same exact reason. “It’s a really very complicated balance to strike.”
Tramadol is not as deadly as other opioids and the crisis isn’t killing with the ferocity of America’s struggle withe the drugs. Still, individual governments from the US to Egypt to Ukraine have realized the drug’s dangers are not as limited as believed and worked to rein in the tramadol trade. The north Indian state of Punjab, the center of India’s opioid epidemic, was the latest to crack down. The pills were everywhere, as legitimate medication sold in pharmacies, but also illicit counterfeits hawked by street vendors.
This year, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of tablets, banned most pharmacy sales and shut down counterfeit pill factories, pushing the price from 35 cents for a 10-pack to $14. The government opened a network of treatment centers, fearing those who had become opioid addicted would resort to heroin out of desperation. Hordes of people rushed in to seek help in dealing with excruciating withdrawal.
For some, tramadol had become as essential as food.
“Like if you don’t eat, you start to feel hungry. Similar is the case with not taking it,” said auto shop welder Deepak Arora, a gaunt 30-year-old who took 15 tablets day, so much he had to steal from his family to pay for pills. “You are like a dead person.”
Jeffery Bawa, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, realized what was happening in 2016.
Police began finding pills on terrorists, who traffic it to fund their networks and take it to bolster their capacity for violence, Bawa said.
Most of it was coming from India. The country’s sprawling pharmaceutical industry is fueled by cheap generics. Pill factories produce knock-offs and ship them in bulk around the world, in doses far exceeding medical limits.
In 2017, law enforcement reported that $75 million worth of tramadol from India was confiscated en route to the Islamic State terror group. Authorities intercepted 600,000 tablets headed for Boko Haram. Another 3 million were found in a pickup truck in Niger, in boxes disguised with UN logos. The agency warned that tramadol was playing “a direct role in the destabilization of the region.”
“We cannot let the situation get any further out of control,” that alert read.
Grunenthal has campaigned to keep tramadol unregulated. It funded surveys that found regulation would impede pain treatment, and paid consultants to travel to the WHO to make the case that it’s safer that other opioids.
Spokesman Stepan Kracala said regulation would not necessarily curtail illicit trade and could backfire: Some desperate pain patients turn to the black market if no legal options exist.
This has happened in India, which regulated tramadol in 2018. Regulators say exports overseas and abuse at home came down. But they acknowledge that the vastness of the pharmaceutical industry and the ingenuity of traffickers makes curtailing abuse and illegal exports all but impossible. Tramadol is still easy to find.
Jyoti Rani stood on her front steps and pointed to house after house in the small city of Kapurthala where she said tramadol is still sold in her neighborhood of narrow roads and open drains, where school-aged boys sit hunched over the street in the middle of a weekday.
Rani’s addiction began with heroin. When her 14-year-old son died, she fell into depression.
“I wanted to kill myself, but I ended up becoming an addict,” she cried. A doctor prescribed tramadol to help kick the habit — instead, she formed a new one.
Now she is among about 30,000 people in Punjab who go to government-run addiction clinics for daily treatment.
Countries’ efforts to control tramadol on their own often fail, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, particularly in places where addiction has taken hold.